Dretzel Update

jbh5Things have been quiet lately on the C. H. Dretzel front. No new research to report. However, I remain convinced of my central thesis: that Dretzel’s Divertimento is a closer stylistic match to 565 than any other composition yet studied.

If we are permitted to make stylistic comparisons –and we are, and regarding this question it’s virtually all we’ve ever done– then Dretzel is the leading candidate, hands down.

I’m increasingly confused as to why we keep squinting at Kellner and Krebs, turning their scores this way and that, hoping that some passage will suddenly transmogrify into an actual semblance of the popular composition in question.

No amount of self-induced astigmatism can produce the close stylistic resemblance that plain, 20-20, uncorrected vision instantly reveals in the Dretzel.

Here is a comparison of the openings of the two fugues: first, the fugue of BWV 565; second, the fugue in the Divertimento.




I submit that, even from these snippets, a characteristic keyboard idiom and contrapuntal structure is noticeable across both pieces.

Please, do, show me a work by Kellner or Krebs, or any other A-lister of the Bach Circle, who composes a full movement in that precise idiom: light, airy, tonal, Italianate, vigorous, energetic, repetitive, and heavily flirtatious with scale degree 5 yet always avoiding a tonal answer, for the same obvious reasons.

(In the first case, the wonderful subdominant answer is finalized in a plagal cadence; in the second, the opening triadic leap allows the composer to obviate the issue and still enjoy a “prominent dominant.”)

All thirds and sixths, with carefully stage-managed moments of crisis; these often marked by fully-diminished chords in many voices or “staggering” 4/2 harmonies. Also, very little artifice, if you please. In both cases, similar feints at the Musical Sublime, and the educated middle-class taste.

Also, please, if you would, show me another early Bach piece of confident attribution that is this airy, light and free in texture. So not laborious!

In other words, I suggest that the musical economy of both pieces is virtually identical, in a way that I simply do not see in any other attempts at stylistic comparison. It is highly likely that we are dealing with one and the same composer.

In re-attributing the “adagiosissimo” movement which is still called BWV 897a, we implicitly re-attribute BWV 565.

I was honored, in 2014, to speak to a graduate seminar in counterpoint at NYU on this topic. The two above snippets were first used in that class. I have excellent colleagues, both my seniors and my peers, at that remarkable institution. I’m also grateful to the Guild, which gave me a forum at the Boston convention.

However, six years from my –I’ll call it discovery– there is still scant acknowledgment from the world of Bach scholarship at large. Some emails have come (to me), enthusiastically agreeing with me. Some emails (from me) have gone unanswered.

There is of course deep and widespread investment in a time-honored attribution; one doesn’t simply set that aside at the say-so of one person. There is the iconic status of the work in question; who wants Bach’s number-one calling card to be handed to a nonentity? Even if that nonentity deserves to be a household name? Even if nothing else by Bach sounds like 565, and one is reduced to scouring his œuvre for examples of initial descent from 5 to 1?

By that standard, Mozart wrote 565.

E pur, si muove.

William of Occam, help me!

About Jonathan B. Hall

Keyboard artist, sacred musician, teacher, writer, working in New York City and State. Many interests include music theory and history, literature, astronomy, genealogy, philosophy and theology, gardening, and good food. Cat lover, too.
This entry was posted in Dretzel Project. Bookmark the permalink.